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Why Author Tom Lemberg Joins Parliament Board, and How [Inter]Faith Values Can Heal Democracy

Tom Lemberg recently began his term as a board trustee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. His book “Difficult Times” is available on Amazon.com.

Attorney Thomas Lemberg of Boston, MA joins the Board of Trustees of the Parliament of the World’s Religions at a gripping moment for the movement of interfaith. As  advocates within the interfaith sphere work to both strengthen and finesse relationships to the wheels-that-turn our world (like faith houses, governments, and the titans of corporate America), the need for interfaith to clearly communicate the messages of compassion and coexistence to those holding the most influence is a compelling one.

In his new book, Lemberg eagerly endeavors to make sense of challenges facing American democracy with a sage sense of urgency about making the many faiths positive factors in overcoming societal ugliness. After identifying three qualities about modern America Lemberg considers most harmful, the role of faith becomes a towering consideration, and one that can and will enlighten the work of interfaith activism and relationships within the Parliament and beyond.

After relishing Difficult Times, the page-turner Lemberg authored, Parliament Executive Director and co-Trustee Dr. Mary Nelson  says “we’re delighted to have Tom on the board with his breadth of corporate legal experience, his own wide-ranging interests, experiences and thoughts, and his down-to-earth practicality in helping us work toward solutions.”

We recently conducted a Q &A with Thomas Lemberg over e-mail to share his spirit as a new Trustee, goals for the Parliament, views of interfaith work, and what his book says about the role of spirituality in healing the cracks he identifies in our modern American democracy.

1) Congratulations on your election to the Parliament Board of Trustees! How have you found your experience with the Parliament, and what attracted you to join an interfaith board? 

I was attracted to the Parliament because I believe that its interfaith work is essential to making a better world. We need people of all faiths to understand each other and to tolerate their differences, to see their common ground, especially commonality in values and ethics, and to work together to advance the those values and ethics around the world. So far, I have found my experience on the Board exhilarating. It is a splendid group of good, dedicated, able, wise men and women.

2. You share in your biography that you were raised Jewish, and now consider yourself a pluralist. While this is a buzzword, what does it mean to you, to hold this belief or practice personally? 

I had never been particularly spiritual until 15-20 years ago. I am spiritual but not through Judaism (which I much admire and which I am pleased that my children and their families practice). I find the world imbued with spirit without going through any organized religion. While I relate, in different ways, to Judaism and other faiths (hence pluralism), for me, I find my spirituality outside any faith.

3) What goals do you bring to becoming a member of the Parliament Board? 

I hope to bring to the Board the value of my legal and business experience as a lawyer and executive in the business world, my perspective as an unaffiliated person of spirituality (I guess we are called “nones”) and whatever good judgment I might be able to offer on the affairs of the Parliament.

4) What would you like to see the Parliament achieve in the next year? 

I would like to see the Parliament schedule and plan a Parliament for 2015 or 2016 if possible. I would like to see the Parliament get on sound financial footing (big steps were taken in 2013) and line up donors able to support an enhanced mission. My vision is that the Parliament become the leading interfaith movement in the world to become: (1) the/a leading place where faith leaders would gather for dialogue, advocacy and community action to promote harmony among faiths and faith-based social action and (2) with their imprimatur would engage people around the world to embrace the values of interfaith (tolerance, respect, love, community, etc.) and to advocate for policies to implement the values common to our respective faiths. I hope that we can begin this journey this year.

Front Cover5) Your book entitled Difficult Times looks at contemporary American democracy with sharp analysis of the religious sphere in the U.S. What have you noticed about the interfaith movement that relates to the three main themes in the book: Secular materialism, extreme individualism, and free market ideology? 

I see the interfaith movement as a most important part of helping us to overcome secular materialism, extreme individualism and our worship of the free market in at least two ways: (1) the values of faith serve as antidotes to each of these unhappy sets of ideas; and (2) the experience of tolerance, compassion and cooperation among faiths is one important foundation stone for our moving from angry hatred to productive dialogue and action.

6) Your book uses a lot of song references in our modern pop culture to explain our modern society. Which is your favorite, and why? 

I am a Dylan and Beatles man. Of the many great songs I love, my favorites are “My Back Pages” by Bob Dylan and “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen.

7) Who do you consider your heroes? 

Top two: Abraham Lincoln and Bobby Kennedy. Also Martin Luther King, Vaclav Havel and Nelson Mandela.

8) Beyond being an author and scholar, you are also a lawyer. How would you argue the case for interfaith? 

I try not to argue like a lawyer any more. (I practiced law for years but now I’m in recovery.) But, to be unlawyer-like brief, interfaith has the principles (tolerance, compassion and other central aspects of most, perhaps all, faiths) and it has the facts: it’s a lot better to get along and cooperate rather than to be physically and verbally violent against people who don’t share one’s particular form of faith (or don;t have any faith at all).

ORDER ‘DIFFICULT TIMES’ on Amazon.com

Tom Lemberg is an attorney and author. He has been general counsel of several technology-oriented companies, including Lotus Development, Polaroid and UGS Software. At Lotus, he led the creation and growth of the Business Software Alliance, the principal trade association of the software industry. Before that work, he was partner in two Washington law firms. He is now an author and is about to publish Difficult Times: A Fresh Look at Democracy in Modern America, a book on why America is so distressed, angry and divided and why our politics are so badly broken. A Jew by tradition and upbringing, Tom now identifies himself as a religious pluralist who greatly appreciates and seeks to learn from multiple faith traditions.

Hindu Priest Lays Foundation Stone for Muslim Building in Kutch, India

by DV Maheshwari
from DNA: Daily News and Analysis, India

Another chapter was added to the history of communal harmony in secular Kutch last week when Acharya Purushottam Priyadasji Maharaj, chief of the Maninagar (Ahmedabad) Swaminaryan Gadi Sansthan, laid the foundation stone of a Muslim community hall in Kera village.

The community hall is being built in the Swaminarayan Nagar area of the village by non-resident Indian Salim Molu, a Khoja (Ismaili) Muslim philanthropist based in Mombasa, Kenya. Molu has also announced a donation of Rs50 lakh to the Aga Khani Ismaili Khoja community of the village.

Molu had met Acharya Purushottam Priyadasji last year during the latter’s visit to Kenya and the United Kingdom.

The foundation-laying ceremony took place amid a large presence of people from both the Patel and Khoja communities, which are in almost equal number in Kera. The community hall is expected to be ready by this time next year. According to Prem Patel, solicitor of Molu Firms in the UK, it will also be inaugurated by Acharya Swami.

Click here to read the full article

Nontheists, Christians Meet for Dialogue, Better Mutual Understanding

by Heather Keel
from herald-mail.com

A secular humanist, an agnostic and an atheist walk into a church.

That wasn’t the setup for a joke Wednesday night in Hagerstown, but for an evening of impassioned discussion hosted by the Interfaith Coalition of Washington County to encourage dialogue among people with different beliefs and ideas.

About 50 people attended the group’s “Dialogue with Non-Theists,” held at Hagerstown Church of the Brethren.

Ed Branthaver, a member of Hagerstown Freethinkers, moderated a panel discussion by secular humanist Eldon Winston, agnostic Zsun-nee Matema and atheist Brian Fields, about how their philosophies shape their beliefs about morality, the soul and what happens after death.

Click here to read the full article

Learning to Respect Religion

by Nicholas Kristof
from the New York Times

A few years ago, God seemed caught in a devil of a fight.

Atheists were firing thunderbolts suggesting that “religion poisons everything,” as Christopher Hitchens put it in the subtitle of his book, “God Is Not Great.” Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins also wrote best sellers that were scathing about God, whom Dawkins denounced as “arguably the most unpleasant character in fiction.”

Yet lately I’ve noticed a very different intellectual tide: grudging admiration for religion as an ethical and cohesive force.

The standard-bearer of this line of thinking — and a provocative text for Easter Sunday — is a new book, “Religion for Atheists,” by Alain de Botton. He argues that atheists have a great deal to learn from religion.

“One can be left cold by the doctrines of the Christian Trinity and the Buddhist Eightfold Path and yet at the same time be interested in the ways in which religions deliver sermons, promote morality, engender a spirit of community, make use of art and architecture, inspire travels, train minds and encourage gratitude at the beauty of spring,” de Botton writes.

Religion Stories Of 2011: The Top 11

by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush
from Huffington Post

In the final days of 2011 we pause to reflect on the year that has past — the good, the bad and the ugly. Here are the HuffPost Religion Top Stories of 2011.

The Muslim Spring
It started with a simple vegetable seller in Tunisia who, humiliated by the police and autocracy, set himself on fire at the end of 2010. One year later, the seemingly eternal regimes of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have fallen to popular uprisings and several others, including Syria, appear to be teetering. Once called the Arab Spring, Islam is increasingly being recognized as the fuel that fed the fire of these revolutions — a fire that that may both warm and burn in 2012.

The Dalai Lama Steps Down
The Dalai Lama made history when he relieved himself from his responsibility as political head of the Tibetan people to concentrate solely on his role as spiritual leader; ending one of the most enduring, if benevolent, theocracies in the world. Lobsang Sangay, the Harvard-trained legal scholar, is the the new Tibetan Prime Minister in a time when frustrations with Chinese policy is leading to a fiery form of radical protests by nuns and monks.

Mormons in Politics
The potential success of the Romney presidential campaign has fed a frenzy of discussion of what it means that a Mormon is in politics. The fact that Romney is not the only Mormon candidate (Huntsman) and that the Senate Majority Leader (Reid) is also Mormon doesn’t seem to stop the endless punditry and speculation. Will religious suspicion on the part of evangelicals in the primary and secularists in the general election doom this Mormon moment?

The Muslims Are Coming, The Muslims Are Coming
Fear of the “Muslim menace,” fueled by cynical politicians and well funded think tanks, has led to anti-sharia laws proposed and passed in states around the country. The fact that these states hadno pending pro-sharia laws is apparently beside the point. Creating bulwarks instead of bridges, the anti-sharia (read Muslim) movements seem to ebb and flow according to the political tides (think Park 51 in 2010). Get ready for a flood in 2012.

The End of the World
In order to give people time to repent, people with May 21 Judgment Day signs started popping up well before the announced date of the end of the world. The “prophet” of this apocalypse was Harold Camping, an elderly man with a drawling voice heard most prominently on his Family Radio empire. People left jobs, families prepared to be raptured and as the clock ticked down, the entire world held its collective unbelieving breath. And then time went on, and oddly a little disappointed, so did we.

Presbyterians Acknowledge Gays and Lesbians Can Be Ministers
Ho hum, gays can be ministers, too. Yet, for the Presbyterian Church, one of America’s most famously and proudly plodding religious traditions, to change its laws to allow openly gay men and women in same-sex relationships to be ordained as clergy was a major step forward for LGBT rights and for the Church as a whole.

Click here to read the full article

Hindus, Muslims work collectively in a Sikh owned press

from Asian News International

Punjab – the land of five rivers – lies in North West India. Bhangra and Gidda are world famous dances, which have their roots in Punjab. Punjabi culture reflects the colour and happiness in one, and has been successful in binding people from different faiths together against all odds. And in Mohali District, which houses many small and medium enterprises, the spirit of amity exist between different communities that live and work here. One such example can be found at Majestic Printers, where Hindu and Muslim employees work together in an environment of complete harmony. Though owned by a Sikh, the supervisor of the press is a Muslim. The product range includes cards, magazines, brochures and stationary items. In addition, the press also prints a special page from Gurbani, that is, teachings by Sikh spiritual leaders, free of cost.

Click here to watch the short video

June 24th, 2011 at 5:35 pm

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Closing Plenary

San Jose Interfaith Examiner writer D. Andrew Kille, himself a participant in the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions, has written a short piece on the final event in Melbourne.  While the article is careful to mention the addresses of major religious leaders and musical performances, Kille takes a few moments to consider the Dalai Lama‘s appeal to “a strong secularism – not a secularism that denies the importance of religion, but one which respects the practitioners of all religions and of none.”

The article concludes with a convenient list of links and interreligious resources.

To read the full piece, click here.